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California and the West

Grocers, union extend contract and plan talks

March 06, 2007|Jerry Hirsch | Times Staff Writer

The union representing 65,000 Southern California grocery workers reached an agreement with the major supermarket chains to extend for two weeks a contract that was set to expire Monday night.

Almost no substantive negotiations have taken place in the weeks leading up to Monday's original contract expiration date. But now the two sides have agreed to meet on dates to be determined by federal labor mediator Linda Gonzalez.

The temporary pact between seven United Food and Commercial Workers locals and the supermarkets forestalls the type of strike and lockout that disrupted business at the stores when the last contract expired in October 2003.

The current contract with Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions created a dual scale that pays lower wages to new hires and mandates longer waiting periods to qualify for health insurance.

Veteran employees held on to their wage rates and most of their health benefits. But instead of raises, they received a series of bonus payments that deprived them of the compounding effect of annual percentage increases.

Union officials say they hope to unwind the two-tier pay and benefit system and win scheduled raises for their members.

"Though this extension is short and leaves us little time to reach an agreement, we are ready, willing and able to negotiate around the clock to meet this new deadline," said Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770.

The supermarkets have yet to publicly disclose the provisions of their contract proposals.

But in a joint statement, the chains said the extension "will enable each of us to continue to work together with the unions at the negotiating table to address our shared concerns including rising healthcare costs, wages and benefits, and how we can continue to provide quality jobs in our retail stores while remaining competitive."

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